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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - More twists in surrogacy case

Chou Bun Eng, permanent vice chair of the National Committee for Counter Trafficking, speaks to reporters yesterday.
Chou Bun Eng, permanent vice chair of the National Committee for Counter Trafficking, speaks to reporters yesterday. Hong Menea

More twists in surrogacy case

A week after anti-trafficking police arrested three people for their involvement in Cambodia’s underground surrogacy industry, officials from the National Committee for Anti-Trafficking (NCAT) said agents and surrogate mothers operating in the Kingdom should still honour the commitments in their contracts.

“The women already received an income from those who hired them, so we need them to be accountable for what’s in the contract,” said Chou Bun Eng, permanent vice chair of the National Committee for Counter Trafficking (NCCT), following a meeting with Australian Embassy officials yesterday.

Australian national Tammy Davis-Charles, founder of the surrogacy agency Fertility Solutions PGD, was arrested last week along with two Cambodian nationals working for her. Eng said yesterday that Davis-Charles must continue to pay the surrogate mothers, many of whom are renting wombs to Australian parents.

Commercial surrogacy came to Cambodia about a year ago after it was banned in countries like Thailand, India and Nepal. The industry is not explicitly illegal in the Kingdom, but the government has said it’s drafting a law to ban the practice.

As officials move to crack down on the industry, major questions have arisen about how to treat children born in a soon-to-be illegal industry, and how to tie up loose ends.

“We’re concerned some babies delivered by surrogates have been left in the care of brokers and agents, or that parents are attempting to smuggle children out of the country with forged documents,” Eng said yesterday.

Instead, the process for claiming children should be transparent, and carried out with documents recognised by both Cambodia and the country of the intended parents, she noted.

The remarks, however, don’t mesh with other government responses to the industry. Earlier this week, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it is actively working to identify cases of commercial surrogacy, and will refuse to authorise birth certificates for children born in the industry, theoretically blocking them from getting legitimate IDs that would allow them to leave.

Eng said an inter-ministerial committee is being formed to determine how children born through surrogacy can legally leave the country, but plans for the committee have yet to be solidified.

Still, one Thailand-based agent, who asked to remain anonymous to protect his clients in Cambodia, said foreign intended parents will be able to leave with the babies regardless of how Cambodia’s government proceeds.

“Cambodia is trying to act tough and strict, but they can’t do that if the country of origin recognises the child based on a genetic link with the intended parent,” the agent said. “If they prevent the baby from leaving the country, they are shooting themselves in the foot . . . Cambodia is a small-peanuts country to do that.”

Industry insiders have suggested the Australian Embassy is issuing documents to intended parents without the approval of the Cambodian government.

Eng said Cambodia would like to cooperate with Australia to determine how to deal with intended parents and children, but there is some friction on how to approach the issue.

“The Australians said this isn’t relevant to Australian law, that it’s a contract made between private individuals,” Eng said. “But we don’t agree; those working as surrogates are Cambodian, and those who need babies are Australian, so there is a need for responsibility from both sides.”

Officials from the Australian Embassy declined to comment after the meeting.

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